When it comes to rebuilding and expanding vital water infrastructure, no state has a greater need than California, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

In a report by the Southern California Partnership for Jobs, the EPA surveyed the state’s water system requirements in 2013, and projected it will cost more than $44 billion to renew, replace, maintain and ensure the reliability of California’s water transmission and storage infrastructure.

California’s largest water reservoir is the snowpack that accumulates in the Sierra during the winter months and is released into the Sacramento-San Joaquin river system as warmer weather melts the snow.

As our population increased in the 20th century, state, federal and local agencies funded and constructed dozens of dams and reservoirs to capture the melting snow and keep our rivers flowing year-round.

But the last time we saw significant state and federal investments in our water storage and deliver system was in the 1960’s, when the state’s population stood at 16 million. Today we are 38 million strong and growing.

Meanwhile, drought years in California are fast becoming the rule rather than the exception. Meteorologists believe that climate change will reduce the winter snowfall and increase rainfall amounts. If that proves true, the state will need more manmade storage infrastructure to capture and store seasonal rainfall.

Thanks to new reservoir construction and aggressive conservation, Southern California will have enough water to last for approximately two years, before having to face the worst impacts of continual drought.

But that’s a very short timeframe considering the magnitude, complexities, and funding appropriations associated with water storage construction projects. Additional water storage statewide, either surface reservoirs or underground aquifers, is critical to helping California weather future droughts more easily.

Federal and state water officials are planning to expand major reservoirs to gain marginal increases in capacity, but we need millions more acre-feet of new storage, even without climate change, as the current drought cycles demonstrate.

By Dave Sorem, P.E. ECA Government Affairs Chairman email: [email protected]